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Low literacy rate and poverty hinder move

By Terance Tan, The Straits Times, 17 September 2000

EVEN if China wanted to democratise right now, it is not possible due to the existence of several other factors, according to two research scholars.

Dr Yu Wing Yin, visiting senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute, said that democracy was not possible in China currently due to the low literacy rate in the country and its general social and economic backwardness.

Democracy presupposes an understanding of issues. The prerequisite for a Western-style democratic system is education, which means that the people must be educated to a level to understand the issues of the day so that they can make a meaningful choice, he told The Sunday Times.

He also raised poverty as a factor hindering the spread of democracy in China.

Poor people in the countryside are more concerned about their everyday life, and democracy can be considered a luxury for people at that stage of development.

One could say that these people are probably content to delegate the task of running the country to the people who have been running it, he said.

The idea of crisis management was brought up by another academic as another factor hindering democracy in China.

Said Dr Kjeld Erik Brodsgaard, visiting senior research fellow at the Institute: There is this sense of urgency among Chinese leaders that the country desperately needs to focus on economic development, so that China could catch up with the West.

In their attempt to unite the nation behind its efforts to reach the goal of economic development, the Chinese government likes to warn its people that the West is trying to contain and destabilise China, and that it does not want China to develop, he said.

Hence, issues like democracy, elections, and human rights would have to be put on the back-burner until China has finally achieved its basic economic goals, he added.